British footballer Chris Smalling has condemned an Italian newspaper’s ‘Black Friday’ headline as “wrong and highly insensitive”.
Smalling and his former Manchester United team-mate Romelu Lukaku were pictured either side of the headline on Thursday’s front page of the Italian daily, ahead of Friday’s clash between Smalling’s Roma and Lukaku’s Inter Milan.
Above its headline, Corriere dello Sport ran a subhead which read: “Lukaku and Smalling, former team-mates at United – and today idols at Inter and Roma – go head to head tomorrow: the Scudetto and Champions League football are up for grabs.”
In the article the newspaper appeared to attempt to highlight the league’s racism problem.
“In the faces of those idiots who boo, tomorrow everyone must instead go ‘oooh’ like children. It will be a Black Friday, but this is not an end-of-season sale,” it said.
It went on to describe Lukaku and Smalling as “two giants of colour”.
The media fuels racism every day.— Fare (@farenet) December 5, 2019
This is todays edition of Italian sport daily Corriere dello Sport. pic.twitter.com/0RsAmLRyfH
The cover has attracted widespread criticism and the players had their say on Twitter on Thursday evening.
Smalling, who is on loan from Manchester United, wrote: “Whilst I would have liked to spend the day focusing on the big game tomorrow, it is important that I acknowledge that what occurred this morning was wrong and highly insensitive.
“I hope the editors involved in running this headline take responsibility and understand the power they possess through words, and the impact those words can have.”
Lukaku called it the “dumbest of headlines”, adding: “You guys keep fuelling the negativity and the racisme (sic) issue (…) instead of talking about the beautiful game that’s going to be played at San Siro between two great clubs.
“Education is key (…) you guys of corriere dello sport should do a better job at that.”
Anti-discrimination organisation Fare network condemned the front page and its executive director Piara Powar branded it “at the very least clumsy”.
He told the PA news agency: “Part of the problem we have with Italy and countries like that at the moment is people do not know where to draw a line.
“They don’t know what is the right or wrong thing to do, what is appropriate or inappropriate and what might be racism and what might be acceptable.
“If this was two English players – Lukaku is Belgian obviously – and they had said it was a ‘St George’s Day clash’ or both were Belgians and it was the ‘Battle of Brussels’ that would be different, but they are highlighting their race.
“Would they ever take two white Italian players and say it’s ‘White Tuesday’? They wouldn’t and this is the issue. Why would you pick out two players who are black and highlight their race as a way to build up to the match? It crosses the line of acceptability.”
Corriere dello Sport editor Ivan Zazzaroni subsequently posted a statement on his paper’s website, claiming the writer’s intention was to celebrate the “magnificent wealth of diversity” in football.
Zazzaroni wrote: “‘Black Friday’, for those who want to understand it and can understand it, was only praising diversity, taking pride in the magnificent wealth of diversity. If you don’t understand it, it’s because you can’t do that.
“It’s an innocent article, perfectly argued by (journalist) Roberto Perrone, that has been made poisonous by those who have poison inside them.”
Roma later released a joint statement with AC Milan, Inter’s co-tenants at San Siro, announcing Corriere dello Sport has been banned from both clubs’ training facilities for the rest of 2019.
Inter tweeted: “Football is passion, culture and brotherhood. We are and will always be against all forms of discrimination.”
Lukaku and Brescia forward Mario Balotelli are among those to make allegations of being racially abused by supporters during Serie A games this season.
Only last week all 20 clubs in Italy’s top tier signed an open letter which called on “all those who love Italian football” to unite to try to eradicate the “serious problem”.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.